Since broiler chicken, popularly known as ‘farm er murgi’, was introduced in the mass market in the 90s, it has become a staple of Bangladeshi diet. From ‘biyer dawat’ to regular ‘dawat’, from casual visits to fast food restaurants to office snacking; chicken is present in people’s meal in the form of roast, fried, grilled, steak, curry and everything in between.
Bangladesh’s poultry industry has grown exponentially with the sector accounting for 14% of the total value of livestock output, according to data produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI). The consumers, at least from the educated class, do often worry about the safety of the poultry products – the meat and eggs – before relenting and devouring on the delicious ‘biye bari roasts’. After all, what can the regular citizens do other than hoping that the meat is safe and will not have detrimental health effects. There are, however, legitimate reasons for concern. From a public health perspective, one of the major issues is long term effects of consuming chicken meat ripe with residual antibiotics and harmful ingredients from improperly produced feed.
You are what you eat
The owner of D Farm in Jaldhaka, Nilphamari, Rangpur, Arif Hussain thinks that one of the main challenges in delivering best quality poulty products is the customers’ unwillingness to pay more for quality products. “But I don’t really blame them, because it is possible to keep chicken meat affordable,” he said. The various mechanisms in the big machine of poultry production, involving importing feed ingredients from abroad, developing locally compatible parent stocks, getting hold of the proper medication, lack of good quality chicks are what makes it difficult for small scale farms like D Farm to bring down the cost.
“The use of tannery wastes in poultry feed results in serious chromium contamination,” Hussain said. According to a 2013 study by L T Mazumder, S. Hasan and M L Rahman, a number of large tannery mills in Hazaribagh used to produce protein-concentrate for mixing into poultry feed, with each large mill producing 200-250 tons of protein-concentrate per day.
“But that has stopped now since the tanneries were moved from Hazaribagh,” said Debashish Nag, advisor to the Feed Industries Association Bangladesh (FIAB). “I don’t want to challenge that claim, but I will ask though, where does the lower priced feed come from?” Hussain asked. “There is good quality feed out there. Companies like Kazi Farm, Nilsagor Group, Nourish, Provita have great quality feed out in the market. But their products cost about Tk400 more per sack than the lower quality feed you could buy. If they are not using harmful ingredients, then how are they able to sell at such a low price? That’s just common sense,” Hussain said.
To be able to lower the cost and expedite better production, FIAB and Bangladesh Poultry Industries Coordination Committee (BPICC) had placed five point demands ahead of the budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The demands included exemption of 10% customs tax on import of soya-bean meal, which is among the 13 essential ingredients in the ideal poultry feed. “Unfortunately we still have to pay tax on import of soya-bean meal, which ultimately adds to the cost of feed and is borne by the farmers,” said Debashish Nag.
Inappropriate and excessive use of antibiotics in poultry production has led to the accumulation of their residues in chicken meat which poses a major threat and potential risk to public health, like development of antibiotic resistant pathogenic bacteria, persistence of infections and treatment failure
Broiler vs deshi
But feeding the chickens quality feed is only part of the process of producing safe meat. They have to be reared properly and kept free from fatal diseases. Good rearing is very much dependant on having strong parent stocks. Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI) has achieved impressive results in creating breeds like hugely popular Sonali, which was produced by crossing Egyptian Fayoumi and Rhode Island Red, two chickens known for longevity and strong immunity to diseases.
This breed resembles native desi chicken and tastes similar. This chicken is universally used all over the country for the ‘chicken roast’ served in wedding feasts. BLRI recently developed another breed called CPF3, which has higher resistance to diseases. Hussain’s D Farm, in collaboration with SK Farm, produced a new breed they call SDC. This breed, Hussain says, matures within 35 days, which is significantly quicker than the Sonali chicken, which requires 70 to 80 days to reach the matured weight. The broiler chicken, in contrast, reaches maturity much earlier, only after 28 days from the time of hatching.
However, the broilers are notorious for their weak immune system and that was what propelled the BLRI to attempt to create alternatives to it. But because of the quicker maturity time the broiler is still more attractive for farmers. While that yields more profit for the farmers it can be dangerous for the consumers because of heavy usage of antibiotics. “When the ESB antibiotic is used you can eat that chicken up to a certain date. But we don’t know when it was used because they are killed after 28 days and the processed meat can be way past the date for safe consumtion,” Hussain said.
Excess of antibiotics
“The excess of antibiotics and hormone feeding leave residual elements in the chicken. This can create resistence in the human consumer, making that antibiotic ineffective for people,” said Dr Md Shawkat Ali, professor Poultry Science at Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU). Professor Ali's statement was echoed by Dr Muslah Uddin Ahammad, another professor of Poultry Science at BAU and currently a postdoctoral research associate at the Department of Poultry Science of University of Georgia in USA. “In our country, most of the poultry farms are very much dependent on the routine use of antibiotics to increase meat yield of broilers. However, inappropriate and excessive use of antibiotics in poultry production has led to the accumulation of their residues in chicken meat which poses a major threat and potential risk to public health, like development of antibiotic resistant pathogenic bacteria, persistence of infections and treatment failure,” he said.
The European Union has reported that about 25,000 patients died each year from infections caused by drug resistant bacteria, which is equivalent to €1.5 billion of medical healthcare costs. For this reason, the European Union has banned the use of antibiotics in animal production since 2006 and other developed countries have limited the use of antibiotics in poultry production.
We can’t 'chicken out' of this
Hussain says that the problem with getting the right medicines is that they are often not available at the government’s designated offices at the upazila level and are illegally sold outside. Even when the farmers do get hold of them they are often past their expiry dates. “However, the current scenario of poultry farming in Bangladesh is totally different from the developed countries. So, it will be very unrealistic to suggest that the Government of Bangladesh should also ban the use of antibiotics in raising poultry at the present time,” said Professor Muslah Uddin Ahammad.
The way out, it seems, is better monitoring by the government. This will involve creating an effective monitoring cell that will carefully carry out inspection and ensure, on a priority basis, the proper production of feed and the right usage of antibiotics, the two most important factors for producing safe meat. “The Directorate of Livestock Services (DLS) of the Government of Bangladesh could regulate the indiscriminate use of antibiotics and formulate effective strategies to motivate farmers to use more suitable and safer alternatives to antibiotics, like natural growth promoters (mostly herbal products) or non-antibiotic growth promoters (mostly probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, acidifiers and phytobiotics). The DLS should start formulating a National Poultry Board/Council for Poultry Legislation, Regulations and Standards,” Professor Ahammad added.